Q: How come nobody said a word last week after the Chatfield ( Colo.) High homecoming queen accepted a single white rose at halftime of the football game, locked arms with the king and then ripped off her satin sash and sprinted into the players' locker room?
A: She still had two quarters to play.
Katie Hnida (pronounced NYE-duh) is 17, with long blond hair, melt-your-heart blue eyes, and legs that won't quit kicking. This season she's perfect: 23 for 23 on extra points, 3 for 3 on field goals and 1 for 1 in homecoming queen elections.
Among the best sports moments of the 1990s, this one has to be in the top 10: Katie tearing off her helmet at the end of the first half, taking her place among other members of the homecoming court in their dresses and high heels, being announced as queen, wriggling the sash on over her shoulder pads, waving thanks to everybody, smiling for the photographers and sprinting to the dressing room. "I only had a minute," she says of her coronation.
Is this a great time or what? We're past the 1970s, when girls had two options in sports: cheerleader or pep squad. We're past the '80s, when girls had two options in life: to be a jock or a girl. Now we're into the Katie Era, when a young lady can kick the winning field goal on Saturday afternoon and look drop-dead in her spaghetti-strap number on Saturday night. "I know I looked gross at halftime," Katie says. "No makeup or anything. But I'm a football player. How else am I going to look?"
Actually, the only way anyone on the other team can guess that the 5'9", 135-pound Katie is a girl is by the ponytail that runs out from beneath her helmet and down her back. One time, as a freshman, she got flattened after a PAT by a massive nosetackle, who ended up on top of her. They both opened their eyes at the same time, only it was the nosetackle who screamed, "You're a girl!"
Not that the guys on the Chatfield High team seem to notice much. "I don't mind when they burp, fart and spit around me," she says. "It lets me know they think of me as their teammate."
Another first: players thanked for impersonating water buffalo.
Katie's life can be strange. After one game last year the Chatfield players and their opponents were exchanging postgame handshakes when a hulk on the other team stopped Katie and asked, "Do you have another number besides 40 I could possibly have?" She didn't bite, but it still goes down as the single best pickup line in high school football history.
The only downside of the whole thing is that Katie has to shower and dress in the girls' locker room, away from the rest of the team. "Sometimes we'll win a big game and I can hear all the guys whooping it up," she says, "and I want to get in there with them."